Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening and Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening London, printed by T. Bensley and Son for J. Taylor, 1826.
Xii, 238p.: 42 coloured, tinted or uncoloured aquatint plates, some double-page, some with hinged overslips, aquatint vignettes and engraved illustrations in the text, 2 with overslips: 35cm.
Vancouver Public Library, Special Collections: 712 R42f
Humphrey Repton, whose career as a landscape gardener and designer spanned forty years, once expressed the intention of becoming the recognized successor to ‘Capability Brown’, an ambition he unquestionably fulfilled. A skilled businessman as well as a pre-eminent gardener, Repton would present his clients with a hand-written book containing his proposals for improving their property. The books were bound in red morocco and became known as his Red Books. He illustrated the books with watercolours that portrayed views of the landscape as it was at the time of consultation. The watercolours were given overlays which demonstrated how the property would look after the addition of a lake, a grove of newly planted trees, or the complete re-routing of a road. These ‘Red Books’ formed the basis of the two printed books of engravings which can now be seen in the Special Collections Department of the Vancouver Public Library.
These two books are particularly valuable for the number of illustrations they contain of properties, such as Bulstrode, Grayhurst and West Wycombe for which Red Books no longer exist. The books employ an ingenious series of flaps and folds to illustrate the proposed changes rather than the overlays of the original. In his article “Collecting English Illustrated Books,” Graham Watson chooses Ackermann’s Microcosm of London and at least one title of Repton’s as essential for any significant collection of English colour-plate books.
In 1977, Basilisk Press published The Red Books of Humphry Repton. This title consisted of collotype facsimiles of three of Repton’s books, incorporating all the details such as the overlays, an account of Repton’s life and influence, and a companion volume of sepia photographs by Eric de Mare showing how the properties looked in the 1970s. The books were on display at the Basilisk shop in London, and I remember handling them (very carefully), they were breathtakingly lovely. In 1981, Phaidon Press, the British art book publisher, issued a facsimile edition, printed by photolithography on heavy cream paper with only 14 plates in colour and 44 in black and white. It was bound in quarter calf with brown buckram over boards.
Photo credit: Kim McCarthy